Op-Ed: Weiser must resign

Thursday, January 14, 2021 - 11:07pm

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It’s a pretty simple question: “Do you condemn white supremacy?” But even after three public statements, University Regent Ron Weiser (R) still has not answered it.

Weiser is an elected member of the University of Michigan Board of Regents and the incoming chair of the Michigan Republican Party. His incoming co-chair, Meshawn Maddock, is a prominent voice in the “stop the steal” movement that alleges Donald Trump won the election, and she helped organize busloads of Michiganders to attend what became a domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, an attack that was orchestrated in part by well-known white supremacists carrying Confederate flags and covered in neo-Nazi tattoos. 

The events of that day were the culmination of long-term planning from white nationalist groups, including the Proud Boys, that organized online to take over the Capitol not just in opposition to the certification of the Electoral College vote, but expressly in the name of white supremacy. The day of the attack, Maddock shared a since-removed video of the crowd on Instagram, calling the group a “sea of Patriots.”

In the video she shared, a man off-camera can be heard yelling, “We need to march on the Capitol when we’re done here and drag these people out of power.” Later in the day, members of this crowd came within minutes of killing members of the U.S. Congress and Vice President Mike Pence.

The day after the insurrection, when directly asked by Bridge Magazine about who incited the riot and his views about what had occurred, Weiser, who has been a major donor to the outgoing president and even landed on his 2016 inaugural committee, failed to condemn his co-chair Maddock or white supremacy. Instead, he said that he had not watched the attacks or news surrounding it: “I watched Michigan destroy Minnesota in basketball, and that kind of contest is something that I strongly support.” He later blamed this response on oral surgery he received the day of the riots.

Weiser cleaned up his original response with a second statement saying he condemned “those people who turned (a protest) into a mob” and that his heart went out to those “unnecessarily” harmed. Later, in light of a growing number of signatories to a Change.org petition and an open letter signed by faculty, staff and alumni calling for his resignation, Weiser offered an additional statement that was substantively the same as his previous one, calling the events “incredibly tragic and wrong,” without referring to them as a terrorist attack or insurrection. At each turn, even without the haze of oral surgery, he still managed to miss the words “I condemn white supremacy.”

Apart from Weiser’s shocking disregard for the severity of the Jan. 6 insurrection, his statements are a matter of safety for anyone affiliated with the University. Let me put it in a broader context: Just months after I graduated from the University of Virginia as an undergraduate student, white supremacists descended on my former home, terrorizing students and, the next day in downtown Charlottesville, killing a young woman. If, in the immediate aftermath of this attack, any member of the UVa Board of Visitors had equivocated in their condemnation of these neo-Nazis, they would have been promptly shunned by the UVa community and rightly stripped of any titles or standing. Anything less, and the neo-Nazis who had already terrorized UVa would have felt empowered to come back for more.

That same danger in Michigan is very real. According to the FBI, armed insurrectionists are currently planning to attack Michigan’s Capitol, which, as we are all too painfully aware, was already attacked in April, followed by an attempt to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. In fact, one of the men who attacked Michigan’s Capitol last spring participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C.

And yet, here at the University, even after three separate statements, the fact remains that Weiser has at no point condemned his co-chair, who was complicit in a terrorist attack on the U.S., or white supremacy itself, an abhorrent phenomenon and the avowed cause of the terrorists. As a result — and at a minimum — he must resign.

The stakes here cannot be understated. Failing to condemn the driving force of this riot will only let that force grow stronger. White supremacist activity on university campuses hit a record high in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available. Well before white supremacists successfully invaded the U.S. Capitol, they marched on UVa’s grounds carrying torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us.” 

In these moments, language matters. It is not enough to denounce violence by itself and in a passive voice. Our regents must loudly, explicitly and unequivocally stand against white supremacist ideology and the terrorist attack it wrought. There is simply no room to believe that what’s happened on other campuses can’t happen on ours. 

We cannot give officials three or more chances to get their condemnations right. The issue here is not just a matter of delay — it’s the reluctance to denounce something as odious as white nationalism or domestic terrorism at all. Any hedging is disqualifying.

The day Weiser made his first statement — deflecting to basketball — I, along with many others, emailed him demanding his resignation. After a handful of tense exchanges, I asked him point-blank in my latest email, “Do you condemn white supremacy?”

He responded that he is less powerful than I think — despite being the incoming chair of a state political party, an ambassador under former President George W. Bush, a significant donor to the current president and a member of the Board of Regents. He said that he has no influence over white supremacists, which ignores his leverage and responsibility as a public figure to prevent their normalization. He also said that as a Jewish person, he fears white supremacists himself.

When The Daily’s Editorial Page Editors reached out separately for a comment from Weiser, he did not respond.

U-M students also feel fear — only none of us have the power to do anything about it. Any official who refuses to readily identify and publicly condemn the danger of white supremacy only amplifies its danger for the rest of us.

Dani Bernstein is a third-year law student at the University of Michigan and can be reached at dbern@umich.edu


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